Book An Appointment 

A Path to Growing as Partners in Relationship Therapy

By Kimberly Castelo, LMFT-S, CST-S, CST-T&S

Adapted from Hold Me Tight © by Sue Johnson

The long-term goal of relationship therapy is to help each partner become a source of security, protection, and comfort for the other. Our therapist help choreograph bonding moments in the session that can teach you how to soothe difficult feelings and co-construct positive moments that also lead to a more secure sense of self as a partner. This path is a journey that can include a transformation..

  • From distant roommates to emotional engagement
  • From reactive defensive and self-protective strategies to openness and a willingness to be vulnerable with each other
  • From despair and helplessness in the face of seemingly never ending conflict cycles to a feeling of empowerment and an ability to use the material in the conflict to construct a stronger relationship
  • From the blame game to a deeper understanding of how each partner makes it difficult to be caring and responsive to each other
  • From a focus on flaws of a partner, to a deeper understanding of one's own attachment fears and longings
  • From isolation to a felt sense of connectedness

This is not an easy journey and below we outline the initials steps to starting this journey.

Stage 1: Understand Your Strengths and the Patterns that Keep You Stuck


Come with an open mind to therapy

One needs to welcome the process of therapy in order to grow from it. Before you begin therapy, be mindful to allow counseling to create change within yourself and your relationship.


Try to think of the cycle you and your partner(s) get into

Here are some examples of cycles:

Find the Bad Guy

“The more I feel attacked, the louder I get”

then . . .

you get louder

(In this cycle, partners turn up the volume during conflict)

Protest Polka

“If I feel disconnected and dismissed, I complain, demand, get critical, pursue you” 

then . . .

You move away, defend, shut down, and shut me out.

(In this cycle, one pursues the other while the other withdraws)

Freeze and Flee

“The more I see that you hold back and shut down

. . .

the more careful and distant I am”

(In this cycle, the partners do not talk about issues and withdraw equally from each other)

In this step, allow yourself to name the cycle as the enemy and not your partner(s).  Also allow yourself to notice what is your part in the cycle.


Notice what you are feeling when you get into the cycle

Here are some feelings that create change in the relationship but that are often not mentioned:

  • Hopelessness
  • Fear of not good enough
  • Fear of being left
  • Not mattering
  • Not being important

Even though many people talk about specific feelings such as being “frustrated,” “angry,” or “annoyed” here, we are actually looking for something a little deeper.  Frustration, anger, and annoyance usually have to do with other, deeper feelings, such as feeling like one is not important or as if one does not matter.  Slow yourself down here and ask yourself what is the deep, core feeling you are experiencing when you are in the cycle.


Ask yourself: Why do you want to work on this? Why is this particular relationship important to you?

An example of a response could be: “I want to work on this because I love you and I believe in us.”

Responses to these questions should be integrated with the feelings that are fueling the cycle:

“When I feel unimportant, I get louder. I do not want to get louder; I want to be close to you. Can you help me?  I want to feel close to you.”

“When I feel like I am not good enough, I withdraw.  I want to be able to help you. At times, I don’t know how to do that.  Can you make space for me to try even if it is not perfect? I really want to feel connected to you.”

Once we name the cycle (remember: what we can name, we can tame), we can start to pursue different kinds of work, which will help repair, bring closeness, and provide clarity on how you both want the relationship to look going forward.

Stage 2: Deepening Connection


Reach for your partner(s)

Talk to your partner(s) about what has hurt you and what you are longing for in the relationship.  Talk about your hurts and fears without defensiveness or criticism. Here we need to be vulnerable and not to fight or withdraw.


Respond to your partner(s)

The goal here is to remind yourself that you want to heal this relationship; therefore, can you listen to your partner’s pain and validate them (validating does not mean they are 100% right)?  Turn toward your partner(s) and comfort them. 

Stage 3: Build a Secure Connection That Last


For the person who shares their hurts: make space for your partner's "try" here

Can you feel/see your partner’s reach?  Remember that asking for perfection can sometimes sabotage connection.

[At this stage, we can flip roles and repeat steps 5 to 7 for the other person in the relationship, while following the same guidelines]


Building a healthy relationship

John Gottman’s research shows that most people fight about the same topic during their relationship, but that the way they have conflict changes.

Look for ways to engage differently; look for solutions and plan and solidify working as a team.



Strengthen and emphasize why you are in this life together.  Need to make a plan for how you want to turn into each other when you are struggling. Also need to state why you want to put the effort into making this relationship work.  This is the time where we take a deep breath and say, “We made it, and we are so much stronger now!”

Let's Talk About Your Relationship


Articles on Relationship Counseling

5 Tips to Finding an Effective and Competent Couples Therapist in Seattle
Bring Back the Spark: Transform Your Relationship with These 4 Proven Techniques of Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy